I've got to tell you that there's no payoff supper at the end of this post, which is all about preliminaries. I was inspired by the excellent Judith Jones to try my hand at getting the most out of one (defrosted supermarket) frozen duck. In the recipe section of her memoir, there is a plan for this, and another fine scheme for getting more than your money's worth from a leg of lamb.
Mine differs a bit, because I decided to have a go at a duck confit, something I've been thinking about for awhile. There's going to be confit, a giant pot of duck soup, gribenes-(a salty, crunchy garnish for a salad or other use), and a fancy duck breast dinner dish for 2 people. But not today.
You will probably not want to try this if you are looking for a Thirty Minute Meal. If you occasionally enjoy making a demented fuss over food, however, it could be up your alley. Or maybe you like watching another person making a fuss. You're invited too. Before we begin, though, I had better also confess- I am cheating. The confit thing requires more fat than can be harvested from a single duck. So, I'm doing this with one frozen duck...plus, 3 added cups of a mix of rendered goose and duck fat.
Well, you say (in my imagination, I don't actually hear a voice, no worries), "What good is it to go on about getting all that out of one duck, when you're not actually doing it?"
But here's the deal. Once you get about four cups of duck and or goose fat hoarded, you can reuse it, and get all of these goodies from a succession of individual ducks. Because when you are done consuming this stuff, you strain the fat, and freeze it until next time. The fat lasts for a couple of years this way. Duck and/or goose fat is a very special cooking medium, which is dynamite for cooking vegetables- saute or roast, and other things...it is pure white, very mild, and just delicious. So, if you make a confit once, and decide it's not for you, the fat should still not go to waste.
I got my four cups by a combination of methods, including buying 7 oz. of it from d'Artagnan to top it off. You can buy all of it to start with, though that's not going to do the one duck budget any good. You could, I suppose, consider it an investment, and that wouldn't be crazy. A great lot of mine came from a goose I made in a not very successful attempt at a Paula Wolfert recipe. That, the d'Artagnan stuff and the rendered fat from the Duck in Question was sufficient. The bits of duck in the confit slowly exude more fat as well. Some people (Emeril Lagasse for one) combine the duck fat with olive oil. That would be another way to top it up.
If you want to try this with me, here we go:
So, it is necessary to begin by cutting up the duck with a nice sharp knife and a pair of killer poultry shears. I won't pretend this is fun, but it doesn't take long. If you are lucky enough to have the giblets and neck in the bird's cavity, take them out and save them. The neck will go in the confit, the giblets in the soup, and if you don't want to have the liver, cooked in butter and sliced on toast for lunch, please mail it to me. This is a cook's reward of the first order. ( I do realize that a lot of people just don't go for any sort of liver. I'm mystified, but accepting).
First, slice off the breasts with a very sharp knife, leaving the skin intact, and slide them into a freezer bag. These will make a fancy dinner. You could do that straight away, but we are going to do it next week. So they are going in the freezer.
Now, as neatly as you can, remove both leg and thigh sections, and the wings-skin on. Put them in a plastic bag with the neck and some crushed garlic cloves, plenty of coarse salt, freshly ground pepper and some (preferably fresh sprigs of) thyme. Mash the bag around a little to get all the duck parts nicely covered with the seasonings, and refrigerate from 12-36 hours. I'll be dealing with this in a couple of days, but you probably won't hear about it until next week. So you know.
Now peel and cut off every scrap of skin and or fat on the remaining carcass, and set it in a bowl. Put the carcass in a soup pot with the remaining giblets, some carrots, fennel stalks/trimmings, a leek, a parsnip, water to cover, and some salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, skim, and turn down to a burble. This is going to make a yummy duck stock, and there will be nice chunks of meat too, for soup. We'll get to that later, as well. Today, cook it for 3 hours or so, or until it the broth is tasty. Strain it, and put it in the fridge, when cool. Pull the duck meat off the carcass, put in in a freezer bag or storage container thing, and refrigerate or freeze. When the strained stock is completely cool, peel off any fat, and cover. This can also be frozen, of course, if you are not doing the soup soon.
Back to the skin and fat, which is going to be rendered. Cut it all into squares-sharp scissors work best for me- about 1"squares-, put it all in your food processor with 1/4 cup of water, and process it making sure to cover any openings with your hand-it's messy stuff . Pour the sludge into a smallish, heavy pot, over a low heat. Stay home for 3-4 hours, stirring it occasionally. (I did warn you ...you can always read) Eventually, the fat will turn clear and liquid and there will be little golden brown bits floating around. The latter are the gribenes, which you can lift out with a slotted spoon and put on some paper towels to drain. Pat them, salt them, and put them away. Or eat them- they are an evil but dandy snack. Strain the fat through a very fine sieve and/or cheesecloth into a clean container, with the rest of the 4 cups of duck or goose fat, and refrigerate.
The hardest part is done now. If you like, you can just freeze everything and proceed when you feel like it. I'll be back next week, and the pay-off for these efforts will begin.
This photo was taken in Seneca Falls by Sylvia MacDonald in 2005. She and one Ted Papperman created the frozen duck after a major snowstorm there in January, 2005. I don't know her- I found the photo on www.fingerlakes1.com, under "photos."